One of my favorite categories on Pornhub is “College.” The amateur videos are shot with hand-held cameras and narrated by some aggro-bro juggling the camera, a beer cup, and his dick. From tanlines to the soft curve of beer bellies to day-glo bras and panties, these clips focus on the lean muscle of America’s crotch. There’s an affect to these videos that simply isn’t there with the Sasha Grey/James Deen/Stoya demographic — that kind of intentionally ‘pro-sex’ attitude that reminds me I’ll take aggressive over progressive any day; rather, it’s the beauty and fragility of these young kids fucking their brains out for the sake of absolutely nothing. I feel vaguely interested in their lives outside of these videos, and this creates a narrative unique to the ‘College’ brand, exploitative, sexual, and spiritual in the way we want junk to take us outside of ourselves. A high compliment to pay director Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers is that it functions in the same way these porn videos do: it creates an experience you feel from the groin up. It’s smut at its smuttiest. By seemingly not giving a fuck about anything other than candied aesthetics and sensory overload, Spring Breakers ends up giving more fucks than any film this year.
Korine has often said that his films are not meant to point to anything other than the beauty of images; they resist explaining anything, their ‘meaning’ is as substantial as the grains of dust floating in the camera’s eye. Yet people often mention ‘society’ and ‘cultural context’ when discussing Gummo, or Trash Humpers, and especially Kids (which Korine wrote), and they’ll likely do so for Spring Breakers, too. It’s hard not to, with a cast including barely legal Disney stars getting naked and smoking fat blunts, a thugged-out James Franco flaunting semi-automatics and fat stacks of cash, and Gucci Mane wearing his signature ice cream cone necklace while a woman rides his dick — the film’s glossed visuals are just waiting for the greasy smears of critics politicizing and moralizing. I have never quite understood why many audiences and critics seem to hold films to a higher truth than other forms of art. It’s a huge part of why I almost always prefer to see movies alone, or with the same person. After the screening, I asked my friend’s co-worker what she thought of the film. She replied with a very focused and lengthy diatribe regarding ‘the general public’ and ‘teenage gun violence.’ Well, okay. I couldn’t exactly stand there and say, ‘Yeah, but that’s what makes the film so great, and when did Korine ever give a fuck about the general public?’ because this is maybe the first of Korine’s works that will actually be viewed by — and made for — the general public, and it will make money. Educated liberals will be sharing theater seats with tweens and bros.
Spring Breakers goofs off in a way atypical in Korine’s body of work in that it’s a tightly controlled substance. The narrative is a straight shot at noir storytelling — a group of reckless women get a taste of crime and money and want more of it — and each scene leads to the next scene instead of the director’s usual orbs of weirdness that are more focused on presence than anything scripted. But the blackness behind the veneer still shows through with repetitive shots of tits on the beach, skin in slowmo, the whispering mantra of “Spring Break Forever,” and the looping of scenes, which create a sense of ecstatic repetition. Korine’s refusal to be contained within his own constructed narrative is evidenced by the way moments can drift to create spaces entirely their own — like an insane montage of the girls fondling their guns as Alien (Franco) serenades them with a piano-on-the-beach rendition of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” — yet the film always continues its forward motion. It’s a head trip, and at times, exhausting. But all things considered, it’s a rather conventional film for Korine, and it works.
What else works is the casting. James Franco as Alien is great. For like a year now, I felt hesitant about Korine’s decision to work with him, as the guy seems like part MFA choad, part stoner Hollywood sleazeball, and just not interesting. It turned out to be a genius decision. Franco plays Alien with equal parts creep and child all the while being as iced out as possible. There’s no way he didn’t play the role without getting high as fuck beforehand, and it’s interesting to watch the way he settles into it, a film of sweat reflecting the St. Petersburg light that makes his skin look sallow, almost sickly. The eeriness and the sadness of what it must be like to live in the Armpit State with nothing but neon making up your days (not to mention having Gucci Mane come after your ass) creates a role Franco can pack so much into that it bloats until it explodes, in slow motion. The girls (Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Rachel Korine, Ashley Benson) work because they do what Korine tells them to do and they walk around looking like candy. Rachel Korine is especially incredible as she flounces and bounces in a way that seems like she’s more intrigued by the actual physicality of it than how she looks, and it creates a dysfunctional playfulness that reminded me of Chloe Sevigny in Julien Donkey-Boy. Gomez seems genuinely scared to death. Their faces, their bodies, their ‘DTF’ sweatpants, are perfect.
With this kind of exposure, Spring Breakers will provoke all kinds of discussions — Disney stars gone ‘bad,’ capitalism, ‘today’s youth,’ drugs, sex, violence. The truth is, Korine has always been completely on top — and over and under and behind and in front of — all things culturally relevant. The guy puts other artists’ abilities to strap on the dong of pop culture to shame, and his ability to tap into what the fuck is going on is because he simply keeps his eyes open. In a way, he’s been working his way up to Spring Breakers, and now he’s finally achieved what he’s referred to as “liquid narrative” in the past. “I wanted to make a film that looked like Skittles,” he said. “This film is where retardation and transcendence intersect.” Korine doesn’t need to create some metaphorical trapdoor shit in order to anticipate and milk our reactions. He can collate a bunch of images from Pornhub, Bang Bros, Daytona Beach, MTV, Disney, Wal-Mart, Tennessee, and throw it all up on the screen and say, ‘Look at this freakshit, isn’t it beautiful? Isn’t it poetry?’ And it is.